- Day 85. Revelations 4-6
- Day 86. Revelations 7-9
- Day 87. Revelation 10-12
- Day 88. Revelations 13-15
- Day 89. Revelation 16-18
- Day 90. Revelation 19-22
Why are we attracted to book series like the Chronicles of Narnia or The Lord of the Rings? What is it about these books that grip our attention and our affection? Part of it is probably the fact that both CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien wrote from a conscious Christian worldview and in fact sought to articulate biblical themes through their works. Part of it is probably because the themes of friendship, trust, and community resonate with a culture that speaks of valuing these things yet show otherwise. Part of it is probably the sense of adventure and excitement, something that we long for, yet fail to experience in the busyness of life.
For what it is worth, I think a big part of it is because books like these stimulate our imagination. The human imagination is a powerful tool. It enables us to think of what is possible – it causes us to think of potential. But notice that I specified that it is the books that stimulate the imagination. To be sure, both CoN and LOTR have been adapted into films – motion pictures. But despite the beautiful graphics and cinematography, I have no doubt that the books will outlive the movies. Is this just a case of ‘the movies are never as good as the books’? Perhaps it’s because you can’t possibly cram 30 years of life in a shire within 3 hours. Or is it more?
I think it is more. There is something about the written language that can stimulate imagination far better than motion pictures. It’s ironic, isn’t it? We’d think that movies can cause our imaginations to run wild because it engages more of the senses. Yet, movies with all its stimulation actually limit the human imagination. In fact, the more stimulation is offered, the more our scope for imagination is narrowed. For example, when Tolkien describes the Shire, our minds run wild with what this beautiful and fruitful land could be. That beauty and fruitfulness is defined by our experiences (what we’ve personally seen) and our imaginations (what we think it could be). We may fill in the details by imagining an open field with cattle, a sun rising over the horizon, and a farmer tending to his crops. We think of all this despite Tolkien not offering these details. Why? Because of our imagination. But when Peter Jackson depicts the Shire, we as the audience are not looking at it from our perspective or imagination. We are seeing all of this through Jackson’s lenses. In other words, we are seeing the Shire as Jackson wants us to see. Now, that’s not bad per se – that’s just the reality of the medium of film. Decisions have to be made and so what we’re presented with is an interpretation of a scene rather than the scene itself. So whilst it is far more stimulating, especially when the panning shots of the Shire are accompanied by the backing track of Howard Shore’s thematic Concerning Hobbits, watching the Lord of the Rings stimulates less imagination than reading the Lord of the Rings.
Why is all this relevant or important?
Because the Book of Revelation is the Chronicles of Narnia or The Lord of the Rings par excellence. It was written by the Apostle John to stimulate our imagination for our future as Christians. Scholars suggested that Revelation was written either during the reigns of Nero (AD 54-68) or Domitian (81-96). Based on internal and external evidence (and I’d be happy to speak about this in greater detail if you wish), I’m convinced that Revelation was written in the later period, during the time of Domitian. But even if you thought it was of an earlier date (that is, the time of Nero), what is clear is that Revelation was written to a persecuted church. It was during this time of extreme persecution that what the church needed more than ever was hope.
‘How are we to withstand the pains and persecution that befall us?’ is what I imagine to be a common question among the Christians in Asia Minor. ‘What good could possibly come out of all of this?’ is probably another question Christian neighbours would have asked each other. It is within this context that the Apostle John writes, and he offers them Christian hope by stimulating their imagination. This is why Revelation is filled with imagery and symbolism. Therefore, these imageries and symbolism are metaphorical in that it probably wasn’t a literal dragon (Rev. 12:3). But they are certainly literal in the sense that they point to something real (in this case, a great power which sought to claim sovereignty over and against God).
Thus, the symbols and images are meant to on the one hand capture the intensity of the sort of persecution Christ’s bride will face. The frightening illustrations of beasts and dragons are meant to communicate the fact that these are wicked beings who are trying to usurp God’s authority. They are trying to crush and destroy the church, and God’s people will suffer from their flexing. But more than that, these symbols and images are also meant to communicate the ultimate victory that Christ will bring when He returns! This is a return that will blind us and blow our minds because it far surpasses our imagination. No amount of creativity can fully capture the glory of Jesus’ return! This is why the Apostle John uses surreal and dreamlike descriptions. In Revelation 21, he speaks of the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, and it speaks of a city that has a wall made of jasper, the city made of pure gold, walls made of precious stones, and streets paved with gold. It speaks of a city not needing sun or moon because God’s glory is that which brings light! We read this and think ‘goodness, my mind can barely comprehend the beauty and majesty of this New Jerusalem’ and that’s exactly right. These descriptions are so rich and vivid, but they still do not capture the full extent of its glory. Therefore, the Apostle John is saying: ‘Dear persecuted church, your pain and suffering is real, and things will probably get worse before they get better. Yet, your future is bright. How bright? How good will it be? As far as your imagination takes you, and then even further because even your imagination cannot capture the extent and beauty of Christ’s return.’ If we were to individually read Revelation, go away and paint what we think it looks like, we’ll all probably come back with pictures that look somewhat similar yet quite different at the same time. That’s good. Because the New Jerusalem will be a combination of all of those paintings and more.
So as you read Revelation this week, do not skim over the symbols and images. Read them, soak them in, imagine them! You may be shocked and horrified at some points, and that’s good. These emotions are exactly the emotions the Apostle John wants us to experience. But there will also be times when you may read something and tears well up in your eyes because you cannot imagine how good our future will be. That’s good too. Because you’re invited to cry these tears right now because it is these very tears that Christ will wipe dry. Therefore, as you read it, recognise that the future described in Revelation is our future – your future too. Our world may be marked by chaos, fear, insecurity, and instability. Diseases and death may plague us, fires and floods may pain us, and the police and political powers may punish us – but Jesus remains on the throne and He is coming back again.
1. What are some of your favourite symbols or imageries in the Book of Revelation?
2. How is the ‘end times’ described in Revelation?
3. How is our future as Christians described in Revelation?
4. How does this future shape our hope today as believers?
5. What is the one thing (be it chronic illness, broken family relationship, and the like) you wish to be restored when Christ returns?
6. Who do you want to invite to share in this glorious future?
Our Gracious God, we thank you for your kindness to us. We thank you that in Revelation, we see a grim yet real picture of what our world looks like. You don’t hold back in describing the difficulty, the pain, and the suffering that our fallen world is. Yet at the same time, you paint a rich and beautiful picture of what future and ultimate union with you will look like. O Lord, may our hearts deeply and desperately long for that day when you return. We really long for the day when every single wrong will be made right. So Lord, prepare us for that day. Prepare us by boldly inviting others to share in this future. And prepare us by not giving up. We don’t give up because your grace sustains us. But we also don’t give up because the battle has already been won. Strengthen us every step of the way and until the coming of the day. In Jesus’ glorious name we pray, Amen.